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Daily Archives: 9 December, '14

9 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Dec 9th

Dear Mother, better start here on 2nd thoughts, though I’ve put the date t’other way up. Is’nt it simply splendid, & you must have seen it by now, a man in our 1st Battn: has been given a V.C. the first ever won by a native in the Indian army What a gorgeous thing for the regiment, and it will make people know us now, & no one can say “oh, yes 39th, never heard of them, who are they-” We are all, as you may imagine, most fearfully pleased. The King pinned it on himself, & said “Let’s see, this is the first one in the Indian Army, is’nt it.” You see, the V.C. was only allowed to be won by natives after the Durbar, it was one of the Durbar concessions to India; and to be the first to win it is indeed an honour.

I enclose two cuttings from papers which you have doubtless seen, but it will tell you where we are, or whereabouts, anyhow! It was at F—–t [Festubert] that the man got the V.C. From what I hear it was as follows: after 2 frontal attacks had been made on some trenches captured from us by the Germans (I told Ben all about this) the 1/39th came in from the flank and fought their way yard by yard down the trench. You must remember a trench is only a narrow little thing, 3 feet broad, so anything you do fighting down one you’ve got to do alone, or nearly so, as there’s no room for anyone else. Well trenches are made with things called “traverses” in them, that is, pieces of the ground, in which the trench is dug, left there, & the trench runs round it, so:-

ERPB to GFB 1913 12 09

in this plan the dots being men in the trench. The idea of these traverses is that if a shell bursts in the trench, it’s effect is only local, & only hurts the men in that part of the trench, as the traverses stop the flying bits from going into other parts of the trench, see? F’instance: a shell bursting in trench A might kill all the men there, but men in B would be saved by the traverse; & vice versa of course. Well, fighting down a trench, the enemy can of course hide behind these and it’s exciting work running round them.

That’s what the chap got a V.C. for, for being in front all the time, and running round each traverse as he came to it & bayonetting the Germans in the next bit of trench; does’nt sound much, but it’s jolly plucky and 16 men were killed like this before the trench was taken. Still in these muddy trenches, mud is simply awfuI. Tell the Dudmans I should like a waistcoat pocket Kodak for Christmas, & please send some films. No news much, but I thought I must tell you about the V.C. Ben will be fearfully interested.

Love to all

Ted

Send me any papers or pictures you can about this V.C.

I hear the Stock Exchange are betting the war will be over before Christmas


A Durbar was a ceremonial occasion. Ted is probably referring to the 1911 Durbar which celebrated the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary.

A Naik was the equivalent of a Corporal in the Indian Army. Naik Darwan Sing Negi was the first Indian to be awarded the VC, though the action for which Khudadad Khan was received his VC took place earlier, and Khudadad Khan, who came from what is now Pakistan, is recognised as the first member of the Indian Army to win the VC. 

Naik Darwan Sing Negi Clearing the Trench

Naik Darwan Sing Negi Clearing the Trench

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9 December 1914 – Ted to Ben

9/12/14

Dear Ben Is’nt it top hole a man of the 1st Batt getting a V.C. simply splendid, and the 1st one too ever won by the Indian Army; you’ll be awfully pleased I know, so I thought I must write & tell you, though I expect you have seen it in the papers by now. But I hope they say Garhwalis & not Gurkhas- So you can tell old Garin-Fitz that even if we are only imitations, we can give a dam good lead anytime he likes, so there.

You may think you know what mud is, but you don’t till you’ve been in these trenches. It’s the most remarkable stuff in the world. You walk along the trench and grow about 12 feet higher as you proceed, with thick glutinous extra soles to one’s feet. And my kit, the clothes we stand up in, plastered in mud off the side of the trenches.

We’ve been a week here now, things fairly quiet, but thank goodness that awful shell fire has stopped, as least they give us a few shrapnel for lunch, but nothing to what it was when we were here before with J.J.’s all day [‘Jack Jonhnson’ was slang for artillery shells] – Some cavalry are coming to “be broken in to trench work” as the orders were, & we are doing some of the breaking, starting on a squadron of Billy’s push, 9th Hodsons Horse– You see there’s no use for cavalry in their true rôle, so they shove ’em in trenches to help the poor old footsloggers. So they send up squadrons to learn how it’s done-

Sat up till all hours of last night bucking to Nobby, about marriage! How’s the child. Nobby has got a rotten job, qr:mr,[quarter-master] & has to fix up all rations etc, which have to be cooked right back behind & sent up into the trenches to the men. Well every night Nobby has to come up the road, quite a mile of which is always swept by bullets & lots of people have been hit on it. So he has a pretty warm time, though few realise it, & I think people should known, as otherwise people might think he, not being in the trenches, was quite safe. Divil a bit. Tons of love

Ted

Send me some paper like this, it’s awful good for daily chits


The 9th Hodson’s Horse was also known as the Bengal Lancers.

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